What do I need to know before I travel?
Public Health Scotland logo

Fit for Travel Logo

Information on how to stay safe and healthy abroad. About us.

Insect Bite Avoidance


There are many different types of insects that can spread diseases between people or from animals to people, such as:

Insects bite you to feed on your blood. It is when they bite you that you can become infected with the disease that they are carrying.

  • For most of these diseases, there is no vaccine available.
  • The bites themselves can also be irritating or painful.

Preventing yourself from being bitten is the best way you can protect yourself from these diseases.

You can find out specific information for the country you will be visiting on the individual country pages.

Insect Bite Avoidance Advice

Reduce the number of insect bites that you get by using:

Repellent use

Insect repellents help to prevent insects from biting you (it does not kill them). They should contain one of the following ingredients:

  • DEET
  • Icaradin (Picardin)
  • Lemon Eucalyptus (PMD)
  • IR3535

Insect repellents should be:

  • applied to all areas of exposed skin not covered by clothing
  • applied after sunscreen, as the SPF protection of your sunscreen may be reduced by the repellent
  • reapplied regularly, particularly if you notice mosquitoes flying close to your skin or biting you
  • reapplied after swimming, washing or excessive sweating (because water and sweats washes them off)
  • applied carefully around the face and eyes
    • be careful not to breathe in the repellent – if using a spray, spray it onto your hands and then rub onto your face
  • kept away from synthetic clothes or plastics as it may damage them, for example credit cards, phones, watches or glasses


To protect any exposed skin from insect bites, try to wear clothing with:

  • a high neckline
  • long sleeves
  • long trouser legs or long skirt or dress
  • socks


Insecticide works by killing insects. For added protection, clothing, footwear, nets and camping gear can be treated (by washing or spraying) with insecticides such as Permethrin.

  • Insecticide kits and sprays are available to buy from outdoor/travel suppliers; the manufacturer's instructions should be followed.
  • Clothes already pre-treated with insecticides can be bought.
  • Frequent washing of clothes means the insecticide will stop working as well.


Mosquitoes are found worldwide and can spread diseases such as:

More guidance on mosquito bite prevention can be found on the Mosquito Bite Avoidance page.


Ticks are usually found in woodland areas, overgrown fields, parklands, hills and mountainsides.  They can spread diseases such as:

Ticks become attached to skin or clothing after you have brushed against bracken or long grass.  They then crawl on you to find a warm moist area of your body to feed, such as:

  • armpits
  • belly button
  • breast folds
  • groin area
  • hairline and behind ears

Tick Bite Avoidance

  • If you can, avoid going into areas where ticks are found.
    • Try to keep to clear paths to avoid brushing against long grass or greenery where ticks may be present.
  • Cover your skin with clothing where possible.
    • Tuck your trousers into your socks to prevent ticks crawling up inside your trouser leg.
    • Wear light coloured clothing so that ticks are easier to spot if they do crawl on your clothes.
  • Use insect repellents on exposed areas of skin.
  • Treat your clothing, footwear and camping gear with an insecticide (permethrin) which kills ticks.
  • Your clothing and skin should be examined for ticks at the end of each day
    • if ticks are found, they should always be removed as soon as possible.

Removing a Tick

Check your skin for biting ticks as soon as possible if you have been in an area where they may be ticks.

  • Ticks can be very small - you might find it useful to use a magnifying glass.
  • Ticks can be removed using specially designed tick removal devices.
  • If you do not have a tick removal device, you can use tweezers.
  • You should grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible and gently but firmly pull upwards.
  • Avoid crushing or squeezing the tick with bare hands.
  • Do not smother the tick with products such as petroleum jelly, alcohol or nail polish remover.
  • Do not burn the tick.

After removing the tick, clean the bite area and your hands with soap and water or alcohol gel.

Biting Flies


Sandflies are small, sand coloured flies. They are found in tropical countries. They can spread diseases such as leishmaniasis.

Take precautions to avoid being bitten, especially at night. Sandflies mainly bite from dusk to dawn but can bite through the day if disturbed.

Sandfly Bite Avoidance

  • Avoid outdoor activities after dusk if possible.
    • If you cannot avoid outdoor activity, then clothing, footwear and camping gear can be treated with an insecticide (permethrin) which kills sandflies:
  • Cover skin with clothing .
  • Use insect repellent on exposed skin.
  • Sleep under insecticide (permethrin) treated mosquito nets or in air-conditioned rooms.


Blackflies are found in tropical countries. They can spread a disease called river blindness (onchocerciasis).

Blackflies tend to bite during the day.

Blackfly Avoidance

Tsetse flies

Tsetse flies are found in the countryside of parts of Africa and spread a disease called sleeping sickness (African trypanosomiasis). You are only likely to meet them on safaris or trips into the countryside.

Tsetse fly Avoidance

  • Cover skin with clothing where possible.
    • Tsetse flies can bite through thin fabric – try to wear medium weight fabrics.
    • Try and wear light coloured clothing as tsetse flies are attracted to brighter and darker colours.
  • Clothing can be treated with an insecticide (permethrin) which kills tsetse flies.
  • Use insect repellent on exposed skin.
  • Your accommodation should have screens on doors and windows or air conditioning.
  • When in the countryside, avoid dense undergrowth, as this is where tsetse fly rest, and they will bite you if disturbed.


Fleas that carry important human diseases, like the plague, live mainly on rats but can also live on other small animals. Fleas can hide in beds and bed clothing.

Flea Bite Avoidance

  • Cover skin with clothing where possible.
  • Clothing can be treated with an insecticide (permethrin) which kills fleas.
  • Use insect repellent on exposed skin.
  • Avoid contact with rats, other rodents, sick or dead animals.

Kissing Bugs (also known as Triatomine, Assassin or Reduviid Bugs)

Kissing bugs spread a disease called Chagas Disease (American trypanosomiasis). The bugs live in the cracks of walls and roofs of poorly made homes.

The bugs come out at night and bite when you are sleeping. When the bug bites you, they poo close to where you have been bitten. Their poo contains the germs that cause Chagas disease. When you rub or scratch the bite you accidentally rub these germs into your skin and can develop the disease.

Kissing Bugs Bite Avoidance

  • Avoid sleeping in buildings with straw or brick walls or when there are cracks or holes in the walls or plaster.
  • Sleep under a bed net that has been treated with insecticide (permethrin).
  • Cover skin with clothing where possible.
  • Clothing can be treated with an insecticide (permethrin) which kills the bugs.
  • If possible, treat accommodation and surrounding areas with insecticide.

Treating Insect Bites

Insect bites can cause a small itchy red bump on your skin. Some people develop an allergic skin reaction to the bites which can become large and itchy. Scratching the bites can lead to an infection developing in your skin.

  • Putting a cold cloth over the bite can help soothe the itch.
  • If you know that your skin reacts badly to bites, consider purchasing a bite relief cream or antihistamine tablets before you travel.


Online Suppliers

The products mentioned on this page are available to purchase in some high street stores and through various online suppliers such as those mentioned below. Please note this list is not exhaustive:

back to top